Low profile but welcome: a Jewish outpost in the Gulf

Houda Ezra Nonoo is a pillar of Bahrain society. Her first language is Arabic and she was appointed by the King to sit in the parliament's upper house. It is only her middle name that gives away the fact she is a proud member of one of the Middle East's most surprising minorities.

Ms Nonoo belongs to Bahrain's tiny Jewish community, which, uniquely in the Gulf States, has managed to survive the massive upheavals that confronted Jews in Arab countries in the second half of the 20th century.

Her family moved from Iraq to Bahrain – they were on their way to India but decided to stay – in the 1880s and her grandfather Abraham, who was a child when he arrived, went on to build a flourishing foreign exchange business that she and her husband still run today.

As Ms Nonoo points out, the now tiny Jewish community was much larger until the Arab-Jewish war of 1948 and the establishment of the state of Israel, somewhere between 800 and 2,000. But while there were riots and the synagogue was attacked, she says: "I don't think it was Bahrainis who were responsible. It was people from abroad. Many Bahrainis looked after Jews in their houses."

Her view is supported by Sir Charles Belgrave, formerly a political adviser to the government of Bahrain – then a British protectorate – who recalled in a memoir: "The leading Arabs were very shocked ... most of them, when possible, had given shelter and protection to their Jewish neighbours... [the riots] had one surprising effect; it put an end to any active aggression by the Bahrain Arabs against the Bahrain Jews."

There is a paradox: on the one hand, Ms Nonoo cannot telephone, let alone visit those of her family who left for Israel after the 1948 war. On the other, ministers and members of the royal family here have often publicly welcomed the continued presence of Bahraini Jews.

Almost from the first, the Jewish community, now only about 40 strong, has nevertheless been relatively low profile – so much so that the Jewish mother of one boy at the school in Manama attended by Ms Nonoo's son was astonished to find out – when Ms Nonoo casually told his classmate – that his family was Jewish. "She didn't realise until then that there is no problem and that it is OK to say you are Jewish."

Since 1948, the synagogue has not been used – even though at one point the Crown Prince offered to build a new one on the same site – and there is no rabbi.

But Ms Nonoo says. "We keep Rosh Hashana [New Year] and Pesach [Passover] and the other holidays in our homes. When my son hadhis Bar Mitzvah, I flew a rabbi over from London for it."

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Babysitter Katie and Paul have terse words in the park
tvReview: The strength of the writing keeps viewers glued to their seats
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was driven to a miserable death. His story is to be told in film
Sport
Qatar has very little football history

It is a crazy place to play in summer, writes Paul Scholes

Life and Style
Make-up artists prepare contestants for last year’s Miss World, held in Budapest
fashion
News
Actor Dave Prowse in his role as the Green Cross Code Man in 1982
peopleStar Wars actor to reprise his other role - as the Green Cross Man
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Brit Marling as PR woman Liz Garvey
tv

It was all about Liz’s cocaine-fuelled brainwave, 'The Metwork'

Voices
The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad and Russia’s deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov flank Fifa president Sepp Blatter
voices
Life and Style
tech
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Desktop Deployment Engineer

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A prestigious IT & Telecoms Sales and Su...

Argyll Scott International: Senior Perl Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits : Argyll Scott International: Senior Perl...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultants - GERMAN SPEAKING

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Ampersand Consulting LLP: 3rd Line Support Engineer (Windows Server, Exchange Server)

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: 3rd Line Suppo...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines